autograph

autograph

[aw-tuh-graf, -grahf]

Any manuscript handwritten by its author; in common usage, a handwritten signature. Aside from its value as a collector's item, an early or corrected draft of a work may show its stages of composition or “correct” final version. The earliest autograph signature of a famous person is probably the Cid's, dated 1096. There exist autographs of most of the great Renaissance figures, including Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Ludovico Ariosto. Since the 18th century, autograph material of notable people in the arts, sciences, or public life has been more abundant.

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An autograph is a document written entirely in the handwriting of its author, as opposed to a typeset document or one transcribed by an amanuensis or a copyist; the meaning overlaps with that of the word holograph.

Autograph also refers to a person's signature. This term is used in particular for the practice of collecting autographs of celebrities. The hobby of collecting autographs is known as philography.

Styles

An individual's writing styles change throughout the lifespan of a person; a signature of President George Washington (c. 1795) will be different from one when he was an 18-year-old land surveyor. After British Admiral Nelson lost his right arm at the Tenerife sea-battle in 1797, he switched to using his left hand. However, the degree of change may vary greatly. The signatures of Washington and Lincoln changed only slightly during their adult lives, while John F. Kennedy's signature was different virtually every time he signed.

Other factors affect an individuals signature, including their level of education, health, and so on. Blues singer John Lee Hooker had a limited education, and such is reflected in his handwriting. Composer Charles Ives and boxer Muhammad Ali both suffered from Parkinson's disease, and their handwriting show the effects of that condition as well. Native American Chief Geronimo had no concept of an alphabet; he "drew" his signature, much like a pictograph.

Many individuals have much more fanciful signatures than their normal cursive writing, including elaborate ascenders, descenders and exotic flourishes, much as one would find in calligraphic writing

For one of the most foremost collections of autographs look up Tommy Scullion; a calligraphic artist in his own right.

As an example, the final "k" in John Hancock's famous signature on the US Declaration of Independence loops back to underline his name. This kind of flourish is also known as a paraph. John Hancock's signature on the Declaration of Independence is so unique and well-known that the phrase "John Hancock" has become a synonym for "signature", and a prominent piece of American iconography.

Categories of celebrities

Some of the most popular categories of autograph subjects are Presidents, military figures, sports, popular culture, artists, social and religious leaders, scientists, astronauts and authors.

Some collectors may specialize in specific fields (such as Nobel Prize winners) or general topics (military leaders participating in World War I) or specific documents (i.e., signers of the Charter of the United Nations; signers of the U.S. Constitution; signers of the Israeli Declaration of Independence; signers of the Charter of the European Common Union; signers of the WWII German or Japanese Surrender documents).

Sports memorabilia signed by a whole team can often be sold for hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Commercialization

Many celebrities still enjoy signing autographs for free for fans, keeping it an interesting hobby. Hilary Duff has publicly lashed-out at other teen idol stars who avoid autograph collectors. Art Carney also enjoyed signing autographs until his death in November 2003.

Many people are not willing to distribute their signature—at least not for free. Sports personalities in this category include most baseball players, including the majority of the New York Yankees, Joe Dimaggio, and most notoriously, Barry Bonds. Other sports stars who try to avoid signing whenever possible are Bill Russell, who does not sign at all in public and only sparingly at private signing sessions. Michael Jordan, would not and could not sign for most of his career because people's safety was at risk due to frenzied attempts to get his signature, which is worth hundreds of dollars. Jordan has frequently signed at more peaceful events, such as golf tournaments. It is also difficult to get Michael Jackson's autograph. A typical scenario is hundreds of fans in a crush waiting by Jackson's hotel, with Jackson signing five or ten autographs as he rushes to his vehicle.

Realizing the potential profit in the sale of pop culture autographs, many dealers also would wait for hours for a celebrity to emerge from a location, present several photos for the celebrity to sign and then sell most of them. Some dealers would locate a celebrity's home address and write to them repeatedly asking for autographs. The celebrities soon grew tired of the practice and limited their responses. Because of the many autographs a celebrity might sign over time, some check requests against a record of past requests. Boxer George Foreman, for instance, records the names and addresses of every person requesting an autograph to limit such abuses.

Secretarial Signatures

Celebrities sometimes authorized secretaries to sign their correspondence. In the early months of WWII, U.S. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall felt obligated to sign every condolence letter sent to the families of slain soldiers. But as the death rate increased, he was forced to assign an assistant to "forge" his signature to the letters. The surrogate signatures were hard to distinguish from the originals. General Douglas MacArthur rarely signed a WWII condolence letter personally and all of his letters to families were signed by one of two assistants who tried hard to duplicate his signature but the "forgeries" were distinguished by an unusually high letter "l" and a skinny "D". MacArthur's Korean War-period condolence letters had pre-printed signatures.

In the 1952 Presidential Election, General Eisenhower often had secretaries forge his name to campaign letters and "personally inscribed" autographed photographs.

Autopen signatures

Since the early 1950s almost all American presidents have had an autopen or robot signature-signing machine sign their letters, photographs, books, and even official documents. The Signa-Signer can even write out in ink an authentically looking handwritten message that has been typed into the machine. One book detailing the use of this machine by President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) is The Robot That Helped to Make a President.

Since the 1960s, the practice of using an autopen has spread to U.S. Cabinet members and to U.S. Senators, and many other personalities who have a high volume of correspondence with the public.

A photo signed by astronaut Neil Armstrong (c.1972) is an autopen signature; Armstrong declined to sign most of these items since 1980. He now signs personally for he has had a decline in mail received. Astronaut Alan Shepard acknowledged that NASA uses the autopen machine to sign the astronauts' voluminous correspondence. Many large corporations also use these machines for signing business letters. One might think that autopen signatures would constantly match one another. However, even autopen signatures will eventually change as the signature drum becomes worn and thereby alters the signature. Due to these professional imitations, one must be wary of buying presidential or astronaut signatures from unknown sellers.

In December 2004 a controversy arose when it was revealed that the United States' Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was using an autopen to sign letters-of-condolence to families of American military members who had died during Gulf War II. Shortly thereafter, Rumsfeld announced that he would start to personally sign such letters.

Forged autographs

Autograph collecting is an enthralling hobby to collectors, who enjoy assembling a series of historical documents, letters or objects that have been signed or autographed by a notable person as a way of capturing a piece of history. However, collectors must be aware that the hobby is fraught with documents, photographs and sports items that were signed by forgers seeking to profit by selling forged items to unwitting buyers. Sometimes just the signature has been forged, in other instances the entire document has been fabricated. Forged autographs of nearly all famous personalities abound. Differentiating forged from authentic autographs is almost impossible for the amateur collector and a professional should be consulted.

One method commonly seen on eBay is called "preprinting" by many sellers. The item is only a photocopy of an actual autographed photo, usually printed on glossy home photo paper. Since this is almost always disclosed to the buyer, some may not consider these actual forgeries.

Forgers go to great lengths to make their forgeries appear authentic. They use blank end papers from old books upon which to write their fake signatures in an attempt to match the paper of the era in which the personality lived. They have researched ink formulations of the era that they want to replicate. One book that explores the production of impressive fake manuscripts pertaining to Mormons is: A Gathering of Saints by Robert Lindsey.

One must know the era in which American presidents signed their documents. American presidents previously signed "land grants" until President Andrew Jackson (c.1836) became bored with the time-consuming task. Since then secretaries of the president have mimicked their master's signatures on these documents (known as "proxy" signatures). Virtually all movie stars have their secretaries sign their letters and photographs for them. When President Ronald Reagan was an actor during the 1940s, he had his mother sign his name to much of his fan mail.

During the American Civil War (1861-1865), the president of the Confederate States of America was Jefferson Davis. Due to his extensive correspondence, Davis' wife frequently signed his name to his dictated letters. As she duplicated his signature so well, she usually placed a period after the signature so that he could discern her signatures from his own.

All of the Union and Confederate generals from the American Civil War have had their signatures forged. Many were faked during the 1880s, a period that included the fad of aging soldiers in collecting Civil War autographs. Most deceptions were of mere signatures on a small piece of paper, but extensively written letters were forged as well. Autograph collectors should be cautious of clipped signatures. The bogus autograph is glued onto an authentic steel-engraved portrait of the subject. Some steel engravings may have reprinted the autograph of the portrayed subject; this is known as a facsimile autograph, and to an uninformed buyer it may appear to be real.

Deceptive devices

Some personalities have used a rubber or steel hand-stamp to "sign" their documents. American President Andrew Johnson (c.1866) did so during his tenure as a senator prior to assuming the presidency, since his right hand was injured in a train accident. This is why his autograph as President differs from previous autographs. President Warren Harding frequently used a rubber stamp while he was a senator. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt used them, along with President Woodrow Wilson (c.1916). England's King Henry VIII and Pennsylvania colony founder William Penn used a deceiving hand stamp.

Joseph Stalin had several rubber signature stamps which were used on awards and Communist party cards. Nikita Kruschev and Lavrenti Beria, the KGB Chief, used similar stamps.

Quality forgeries have been made for all of Europe's past rulers. The French nobles had their secretaires de main sign their documents. Many forgeries of Napoleon's (c.1800) war orders exist; he was so busy with battle concerns that he barely had enough time to sign promotion orders for generals, so his scribes applied his name to lesser documents.

Many famous scientists, astronauts, Arctic explorers, musicians, poets, and literary authors have had forgeries of their epistles and signatures produced . False signatures of the aviator Charles Lindbergh were clandestinely signed onto real 1930-era airmail envelopes bought at stamp shops and then re-sold to unwary buyers; the same has occurred with Amelia Earhart and the Wright brothers. "Mickey Mouse" creator, Walt Disney (1955), had several of his cartoonists duplicate his artistic signature on replies to children seeking his autograph.

Texan paper currency was signed in ink by Sam Houston, though not handwritten by Houston himself.

An article in Smithsonian Magazine explored the "melting timepieces" artwork of the Spanish painter Salvador Dalí. It quoted one of his secretaries as claiming that she signed the artist's signature to postcard depictions of his paintings.

Some deceivers cut pages from books that American President Richard Nixon (c.1970) signed on the blank flyleaf, typed his letter of resignation from the presidency on that signed page, and then sold the doctored item as if Nixon had personally signed a scarce copy of the historical document. The miscreant has changed the value of a lower-priced signed book quite easily to a much more lucrative item; changing a mere signature into a signed manuscript. This practice has expanded to include quotations from George W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Hillary Clinton, John F.Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although now marketed as "souvenir" signed copies, they are, by definition, fraudulent creations.

World War II (1939-1945)

Many of the autographed documents allegedly signed by the German leaders of the Nazi government have been forged. Spurious documents and postcards claiming to be signed by Adolf Hitler are extant. Many were written on blank Nazi stationery that had been purloined by Allied soldiers from the desks in the Führer's bunker in Berlin. German Fieldmarshall Erwin Rommel has had many bogus signatures penned in his characteristic green pencil that he used (ink dried too quickly in the hot North African climate). Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's signature has been forged on authentic documents actually signed by King Emanuel—this helps to make the phony Mussolini signature appear real, since it is on an otherwise genuine document.

Any serious autograph collector must be alert for the WWII blitzkrieging General Guderian autographed document: it may be signed by his son who became a German general after the war. The same confusion can exist in trying to differentiate between the signatures of the sons of Rommel and the American Admiral Nimitz (1945).

Forgers buy real Revolutionary War-era documents and surreptitiously pen a famous patriot's name between other real signatures in a manuscript in hope of deceiving an unsuspecting buyer. Others will use tea or tobacco stains to brown or age their modern missives.

It has been estimated that over 80 percent of the autographed items of famous American sports players being sold over the Internet are fakes. Baseball legend Babe Ruth, for instance, has had his signature forged on old baseballs, then rubbed in dirt to make them appear to be from the 1930s.

Only long-established autograph dealers, auctioneers and authenticators whose practice is limited to autographs have the many years of research experience to determine the authenticity of autographs being sold in secondhand markets.

Copyright

Under United States Copyright Law, "titles, names [...]; mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, or coloring" are not eligible for copyright; however, the appearance of signatures (not the names themselves) may be protected under copyright law.

Glossary

In autograph-auction catalogues the following abbreviations are used to help describe the type of letter or document that is being offered for sale.

  • AD: Autograph Document (hand-written by the person to be collected, but not signed)
  • ADS: Autograph Document Signed (written and signed by same individual)
  • AL: Autograph Letter (hand-written by the person to be collected, but not signed)
  • ALS: Autograph Letter Signed (hand-written and signed by same individual)
  • AMs: Autograph Manuscript (hand-written; such as the draft of a play, research paper or music sheet)
  • AMsS: Autograph Manuscript Signed (hand-written and signed by same individual)
  • AMusQs: Autograph Musical Quotation Signed (hand-written and signed by same individual)
  • AN: Autograph Note (much shorter than a letter)
  • ANS: Autograph Note Signed (hand-written and signed by same individual)
  • AQS: Autograph Quote Signed (hand-written and signed by same individual; poem verse, sentence, or bar-of-music)
  • DS: Document signed (printed, or while hand-written by another, is signed by individual sought to be collected)
  • LS: Letter Signed (hand-written by someone else, but signed by the individual sought to be collected)
  • PS: Photograph Signed or Postcard Signed
  • SP: Signed Photograph
  • TLS: Typed Letter Signed
  • TNS: Typed Note Signed
  • folio: A printer's sheet of paper folded once to make two leaves, double quarto size or larger.
  • octavo(8vo): A manuscript page about six-by-nine inches. (Originally determined by folding a printer's sheet of paper to form eight leaves.)
  • quarto(4to): A manuscript page of about nine and one-half by twelve inches. (Originally determined by folding a printer's sheet of paper twice to form four leaves.)

References

  • Forging History: The Detection of Fake Letters and Documents by Kenneth Rendell, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1994, 173 pages. This book was written by one of America's most-respected autograph dealers. It discusses the materials (paper and ink) used by forgers; shows comparisons between fake and real signatures; discusses famous forgers; provides an analysis of major forgeries; details the equipment used in examining questionable documents; and provides a bibliography of almost 100 books written on the subject of either autograph collecting or documenting forgeries.
  • Great Forgers and Famous Fakes by Charles Hamilton, Crown Publishers, 1980, 278 pages. A legendary autograph expert provides hundreds of illustrations of fake versus real signatures. He discusses the manuscript forgers and how they duped the experts.
  • Making Money in Autographs by George Sullivan, 1977, 223 pages. As the title suggests, this book presents strategies as to how one can maximize the value of one's collection by investing in prime autograph documents in various collectible fields. A wonderful analysis of the scarcity and resale appeal ability of the holographic material of all U.S. presidents and many other prominent personalities. Shows presidential proxy and autopen samples. He confirms that most astronaut materials have passed through the autopen. Nice lists and dates of: U.S. presidents, wives of the presidents, vice presidents, signers of the Declaration of Independence, and early manned space flights.
  • Collecting Autographs and Manuscripts by Charles Hamilton, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1961, 269 pages. It is illustrated with more than 800 facsimiles and other reproductions of historical documents signed by nobility, political leaders, American Wild West sheriffs and badmen, military, and worldwide literature fields.
  • Autographs and Manuscripts: A Collector's Manual edited by Ed Berkeley, Charles Scribner's Sons Pub., 1978, 565 pages. Contains some 40 articles by famous autograph dealers and collectors who discuss how to detect fake autographs; how to care for your collection; and details different ways of how to collect autographs by different topics: science, religion, literature, politics, etc.
  • Scribblers & Scoundrels by Charles Hamilton, Eriksson Pub., 1968, 282 pages. A lively and entertaining book discussing the forgers and their techniques that the author encountered when they attempted to sell their forgeries to him at his manuscript shop.
  • Manuscripts: The First Twenty Years edited by Priscilla Taylor, Greenwood Press, 1984, 429 pages. A compilation of over 50 articles reprinted from publications of The Manuscript Society. It primarily details how to assemble autograph collections by different topics: medical notables, literary authors, scientists, etc. It slightly discusses the art of detecting forgeries.
  • Autographs: A Key to Collecting by Mary Benjamin, 1963, 345 pages. Written by the great female autograph dealer. Provides a historical summary of: collecting, terminology, evaluation in pricing a document, famous forgers, how to detect forgeries, confused identities, care and preservation, and two nice tables detailing the names of Napoleon's marshals and family members.
  • Big Name Hunting: A Beginners Guide to Autograph Collecting by Charles Hamilton, Simon & Schuster Pub., 1973, 95 pages. A short, enjoyable book advising teenagers how to start their collections. But with some helpful knowledge about identifying autopen signatures and other tidbits about collecting that are useful even to the professional collector. Good revelations about the copycat signatures by presidential secretaries. How to identify lithographs and steel-stamp signatures. Concise, but still choice!
  • The Signature of America by Charles Hamilton, Harper & Row, 1979, 279 pages. A book for those who specialize in American autographs: the Old West, authors, presidents, women, artists, criminals, musicians, entertainers, and many others.
  • Word Shadows of the Great: The Lure of Autograph Collecting by Thomas Madigan, Frederick Stokes Co., 1930, 300 pages. One of the early books discussing the excitement of autograph collecting, and presents nice facsimiles of old European autographs.
  • Collecting Autographs For Fun and Profit by Robert Pelton, Betterway Pub., 1987, 160 pages. A fun, breezy book about autograph collecting. Many facsimiles of sports autographs, but also shows 12 different variations as to how Napoleon signed his name. Explains what factors influence the price of an autograph.
  • From the White House Inkwell by John Taylor, Tuttle Co., 1968, 147 pages. Presents many facsimile letters from U.S. presidents and discusses rubber-stamp and proxy signatures used by presidential secretaries.
  • Autograph Collector's Checklist edited by John Taylor, The Manuscript Society, 1990, 172 pages. While unfairly low on this book list, it is THE reference book of seldom-seen lists of those in the collectible fields of: the Stamp Act Congress, Justices of the Supreme Court, the War of 1812, Unionists & Confederates, First Ladies, financiers, cabinet members, composers, scientists, unsuccessful presidential candidates, military participants, and a few other fields. Many nuggets of tidbit factoids about most of these people, and dates of their service or work.
  • The Autograph Collector by Robert Notlep, Crown Pub., 1968, 240 pages. For its time, a nice display of autograph facsimiles, with interest to youngsters in starting an autograph collection. Interesting name lists of : attendees at the U.S. Constitutional Convention, Revolutionary War generals, signers of the United Nations Charter, Napoleon's marshalls, and Napoleon's immediate family and relatives by marriage. A nice book of autograph trivia.
  • The Complete Book of Autograph Collecting by George Sullivan, 1971, 154 pages. This is another book for collectors. It discusses the spry efforts of autograph hounds in stalking sports and movie autographs, but also reviews the standard political and historical items that teenagers really can't afford.
  • A Gathering of Saints by Robert Lindsey, Simon & Schuster, 1988, 397 pages. It reveals the criminal forging techniques of one of the greatest forgers of historical holograms, and why he killed two people to hide his fakes.
  • Dönitz at Nuremberg: A Re-Appraisal by H.K. Thompson, Amber Pub., 1976, 198 pages. Contains the facsimile signatures and biographies of some 350 worldwide military personalities of World War II. The author wrote to each of these notables and asked each to give their thoughts about the convening of war-criminal trials for military personnel, specifically for the German GrossAdmiral Dönitz; many very illuminate opinions.
  • Leaders and Personalities of the Third Reich by Charles Hamilton, 2 vols., Bender Pub., 1984 (Vol. 1) and 1996 (Vol. 2). Two volumes of almost 1,000 glossy pages providing biographies and the reproduction of hundreds of facsimile letters and autographs of Germans (military, political, religious, spies, etc.) involved with the short-lived Thousand Year Reich.
  • The Guinness Book of World Autographs by Ray Rawlins, 1997, 244 pages. The title pretty much says it all: hundreds of worldwide facsimile autographs and identifications.
  • The Robot that Helped to Make a President by Charles Hamilton, 1965. Reveals the different proxy signatures produced by the autopen machines used by Pres. John Kennedy.
  • War Between the States: Autographs and Biographical Sketches by Jim Hayes, Palmetto Pub., 1989, 464 pages. Your guide to the hundreds of autographs of both Union and Confederate personalities from the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865).
  • American Autographs by Charles Hamilton, 2 vols., Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1983, 634 pages. For the specialist who needs almost 2,000 facsimile documents of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence and Revolutionary War Leaders (including British and French) and other patriots. The second volume: contains copious samples of all presidents; reveals Pres. Eisenhower use of the autopen even before his presidency; presents dozens of secretarial proxy signatures for the modern presidents; lists Watergate participants; displays First Lady items; and shows facsimiles of assassins or would-be assassins from John Booth to John Hinckley. Perhaps this should really be the second book listed, but listed low here only because of its cost. It is simply superlative with its autopen minutiae and facsimiles. You shouldn't be a buyer of modern presidents without having these tomes at hand for reference.
  • Autographs of Indian Personalities by S.S. Hitkari, Phulkari Pub., 1999, 112 pages. Provides wonderful autograph facsimiles and biographies for some 250 literary, medical, political and music notables from the land of the Taj Mahal: India.
  • Ieri Ho Visto Il Duce: Trilogia dell'iconografic mussonliniana ed. Ermanno Alberti. High glossy photo book of many items relating to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini; including 24-page analysis of his autographs. Italian language.
  • Who's Who series; Who's Who in America, etc. Provides mailing addresses for thousands of individuals involved in: science, music, space, sports, military, politics, world leaders, etc.
  • Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography ed. By James Wilson, 6 vols., 1888. Provides the biographies of thousands of American notables, and dozens of steel engravings with facsimile autographs.

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